Shiva tried to sleep, but the sound of whips and paddles working Mags’s willing victim on the other side of the wall made it impossible. She turned up the rain track in her headphones and curled into a tiny ball on a tiny bed in her tiny room. Her room was a poorly-converted crawlspace in the back of a walk-in closet. Photos and other relics of her travels covered gaps in the drywall; the rafters laid bare, insulation, partially-exposed, but it was home when she needed it, which after being forced out of her beloved houseboat a month earlier, felt frequent. Every part of her new home besides this room was shared with strangers.
La Lune Rouge served as sort of a halfway house for trafficked girls, providing a safehouse for them to make money on their own term’s outside their loverboy’s eyes, either while still under their control or after being freed. Below Mags and Shiva’s top floor “lair suite” were six floors of eighteen rent-free bedrooms, a piano bar, and an underground cabaret lounge where the girls could also express themselves creatively in La Lune Rouge’s nightly, all-night cabaret show, Hell, made up mostly of formerly trafficked persons.
Being a Parisian-style cabaret show in Amsterdam below a speakeasy-style piano bar, the Hell show had become wildly popular with locals, but also their most highly-guarded secret, hence the zero online presence and its unwelcoming locality. And while the police were aware of the questionable activities in the rooms above, the police chief was one of Mags’s best clients and the department just had one of its biggest trafficking busts because of their help.
Shiva turned on a dim light overhead and switched to music. Her mother’s favorite, “Il dolce suono”, from Lucia di Lammermoor struck like electric equanimity. Tragic operas always made Shiva happier.
Before the disease, her mother had aspirations to be an opera singer, but like her fleeting interests in poetry, photography, and painting, she never could commit. She wasn’t really the commitment type. Neither of her parents were being longtime swingers before they were parents. But still, even when her mother’s sickness was at its worst and she was not at all pleasant to be around, Shiva had never seen two people who loved each other more, a love she greatly starved for but simply didn’t have the time to find. Love is not easy when your life is so limited and it means damning someone else to your curse.
Although her parents never said it, Shiva knew she never would have existed had they known about the disease before conceiving. No parent wants to damn their offspring no less than they want to damn their lover. This was why she had decided long ago art was a better place to put her heart than love and children. There it wouldn’t be damning anyone. That is until she met Mags, or “Queen Kali” as she called herself at the time. Mags was already damned. She too was living with a lurking killer she’d inherited from her mother, ALS.
“That’s why it couldn’t have seemed more aligned,” Shiva said to her mother’s tarot deck. “I had just lost luna hunny and my heart was empty, and right when I needed it, right after I ‘passed through the eye of insanity’, the perfect love found me. But love isn’t supposed to be perfect. I know that now because divine love visited me last night and its timing couldn’t have been worse, yet exactly what I needed. But now I’ve lost it and I need your help finding it again. After all Mom, I believe it was you who brought me it in the first place. How else can I explain it?”
Shiva always spoke to her mom as if she were praying and always had the Ace of Cups in her hands when she did. But today her Ace of Cups was missing, so it was the full tarot deck instead.
Her mother had bequeathed her the Ace of Cups along with the deck in her suicide note, left with her will and written long before she lost her mind, body, and life completely. She wrote it during her pregnancy after discovering her unborn daughter had a fifty percent chance of inheriting her curse, and written in the event she did.
When I’m not there, let this card be a reminder I still am, the note said about the Ace of Cups. It represents the love and curse that connects us, a connection that goes much further than just mother and daughter, and one that reaches far beyond Earth. Let it also be a reminder of the chalice in you that deserves to be filled. You may be cursed, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have gifts for this world and don’t deserve to know divine love before you leave it. And I promise you will know it before we see each other again. I’m just leaving you for now before I become something other than your mother. That’s what’s so horrible about our curse; it hollows you out while you’re still living and not only robs you of your mind and body, but replaces you with a crippled demon. I want to be remembered as your mother, not a demon.
None of this will make sense to you right now and you’re probably very confused and hurt, but divine love always looks like certain madness in the beginning. Peace isn’t sewn without passing through the eye of insanity first. However, after you do, divine love will find you, and that’s also when you’ll know the divine love I always had for you.
Shiva took the deck out of the case and began shuffling, then placed two cards on top of each other in a cross formation, a simple problem-answer formation. First was her problem. She flipped it: the Death card again. She flipped the next one. It was impossible. The Ace of Cups. Where had it come from if it wasn’t with Walter?
The closet door then opened and blue light from the bedroom oozed in. Shiva put the Ace of Cups card in her nightgown pocket, then put the rest of the cards away. She then crawled out of her crawlspace.
A Boy at Heart
“What stays with you most from that day?” she asked sitting on the sofa across from him, pen circling her open notebook.
“It wasn’t seeing him dead,” Walter said. “In fact, he looked quite peaceful.” Her pen began scratching at the pace of his speech across the page. “He even had this smile on his face . . . It was when they put him in a body bag. That faceless bundle of flesh and bone will haunt me forever. It’s amazing the guilt you suddenly feel for being alive when face-to-face with someone who no longer has that privilege.”
“That’s a strange thing to say. Why would you feel guilt?”
“I wasn’t always the nicest to Brian.”
“You two didn’t get along?”
“Why was that?”
“I suppose egos got in the way. We just didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things.”
“When was the last time you saw him alive?”
“Um…” Walter’s fingers unthinkingly began to fidget in an effort to fight his natural urge to always tell the truth even when he didn’t have to, “...on the bus.”
“The bus he died on?”
“What were your last moments like with him?”
Walter’s heart began racing and his stomach tightened. “I... I... I...” He stalled. “Do I have to tell you?”
Her bucktooth grin flashed beneath her bulging, chipmunk-like cheeks, making her button nose crinkle adorably between her doting, big, brown eyes. Maybe it was the disarming English accent, but somehow she’d become his closest counselor and was pulling things out of him that had long been sewn up, when only an hour earlier, she’d been nothing but a stranger—well not exactly. Francis Jones was Rolling Stone’s foremost reporter, and there was a reason why.
“You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to,” Francis said. “This is your story. Not Quinn Quark’s, Cirkus’s, or anyone else’s. Remember, you reached out to me, and no one knows about this interview but us. It’s just us . . . But, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask. A lot of people want to know what happened that night.”
“And so would I, but I was pretty gone that night myself . . . Um… you mind?” Walter said eyeing a bottle of Jameson and an ice bucket filled with mixers on the coffee table.
“Go ahead, that’s why it’s there.” She flashed him another grin. He poured himself a drink, then leaned back in his armchair.
The tranquil glow of Francis’s living room fireplace was dangerously homey, a feeling he hadn’t felt in some time. Although the label had given him some money to get by, it was nowhere near enough to get him out of Grandma’s, which was becoming more of a prison than a home lately. Day and night, growing multitudes of paparazzi and other bounty hunters of fame stalked the front door, so Walter had to stay holed up inside, unless of course he found the strength to endure their legally-protected harassing.
Cirkus’s announcement of the live show and record had made Walter’s fame (aka Quinn Quark) balloon even greater, thanks in large part to Lola’s shrewd peddling. Unbeknownst to him, his emotional soundcheck performance of “See The Sky About To Rain” had been filmed and recorded, and with no single or music video to use for promotion, Lola instead pushed the video—one tight shot of Walter’s genital-swelling face rolling through the emotions of the song until climaxing in a money shot of tears.
Being that it was recorded on the day of Quinn Quark’s infamous last performance, the video circulated quickly and soon became a viral hit among rock and indie circles. Cirkus was quick to respond, releasing the cover as a single, and soon the punk-leaning label had their first top-ten U.S. hit once the video and Walter’s face made it into the general public’s circles and genitals. The swelling was all anyone could talk about. And although the song was labeled rock n’ roll and Quinn Quark a rock star, it was not, and he was not. America didn’t actually still like rock n’ roll, but rock stars were like cowboys to Americans, mythologized clichés they loved to resurrect over and over again.
Walter set down his drink and cleared his throat. “While it does feel good to finally talk about Squids’s death,” he said, “I’m not sure this is the right venue. I’m sorry. I hope you understand.”
“Of course,” Francis said, however, there was a pinch of exasperation on her face. “How about something easy then? What’s your favorite color?”
“Gamma ray.” He smirked.
“Sorry, bad physics joke. I guess gray, but that might change with my mood.”
“Least favorite holiday?”
“Christmas? Who doesn’t like Christmas?”
“How about the non-Christian world? But my reasons are different. Let’s just move on.”
“Okay...” Francis said turning a page in her notebook . . . How’s rehearsal going? How’s it been working with Jason Newsted?”
“Rehearsals are going great actually. It just feels great to be playing with a band again. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. It’s like not having sex. And Jason, oh man, it’s like a whole new sex now that we have a bassist who can actually play—um, fuck. I didn’t mean to say that. I’m sorry.”
“You’re fine.” Francis stopped scribing, surrendering her pen to the air as if she were a captured soldier surrendering a sword. “I can leave it out—I can leave anything out. Remember, this is a magazine interview, not a live interview, so you can relax if you slip up now and then.”
That was nice to hear, Walter thought. He didn’t have to be perfect. He wasn’t onstage with thousands of eyes stalking him, just two big brown ones like glossy eyes of a beloved Teddy bear. Her face quelled something in him like cutesy cartoon forest animals can do.
“Thanks,” he said. “What I meant was, everyone in the band has nothing but the upmost respect for him, and it’s inspiring to be playing with someone of his caliber.”
“So is there a possibility we might see this lineup perform again after the Greek?”
“No. Let’s make that perfectly clear. N-O. There will be no Perfect Crime or Quinn Quark after this show.”
“But what about your unreleased album, Love Songs in a Minor Crash?”
“I never finished it. And the songs I had, they weren’t right for Perfect Crime.”
“But right for a solo project perhaps?”
“Yes, actually. Something completely new for me though.”
“Really?” Francis said repositioning herself, pen ready to transcribe again. “What kind of sound is this new project?”
“Silence.” Francis’s eyes hung on Walter for further explanation, but he just smiled.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I’m not understanding.”
“It’s a novel. I’m writing a novel.”
“A novel?” She looked to be reshuffling notes in her head. “Why?”
“I suppose I like the privacy of it. With a novel, my physical image doesn’t have to be packaged alongside my art. I also don’t have to relive the emotions of my art night after night on tour for years on end.”
“That’s surprising to hear from someone who seemingly enjoyed the stage very much at one point. Did Squids’s death spur this change?”
“Partially, but not fully.”
“Is the novel related to his death?”
“No, and again, I don’t want to talk about his death.”
“Then what’s it about?”
“Uh… well, death, life, love, existence—all the typical stuff,” Walter fibbed. So far his novel was about nothing, because beside his lacquered piece of shit he’d torn to bits, he’d written nothing.
“Care to expound a little more?” Francis’s pen rapped frustratedly against her notebook.
“I guess you could also say it’s a revue of sorts, featuring all the women who have shaped me, good and bad.”
“Can you tell me about them? Your love life is something of a mystery to most people.”
“There’s a reason, and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“All right.” Francis’s pen rapped harder. “Are you currently seeing anyone?”
“I just said I don’t want to talk about my love life. But if the teeny boppers must know, yes I’m single, but nowhere near ready to mingle, and especially not with them.”
“So those rumors of numerous love affairs on the road aren’t true?”
“What? That I enjoyed a few nights with a select handful of of-age and fully consenting women? Yes, I enjoyed myself a little. Anyone would’ve have after what I went through.”
“What did you go through?”
“No. We’re not going there either.”
Francis’s button nose crinkled sharply and her lips pursed into a taut circle. She then slapped her pen onto the coffee table and threw her notebook to the side.
“Okay Mister Huxley,” she said, “well, where do you want to go, because I’m not having much luck driving?”
“Anywhere, just not my past.”
“Fine...” she said picking up her pen and notebook again, “...let’s talk about the future. This novel you’re working on, when can we expect it?”
“Sometime,” Walter said, “but you won’t know because I’m releasing it under a penname.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the book can’t make it on the back of my music career. I couldn’t take myself seriously as a writer if it did. That’s why people can’t know I wrote it.”
“So will anyone ever know the author’s true identity?”
“God, I hope not. All I want is to disappear into obscurity after this farewell show.”
Francis sighed sympathetically as her demeanor shifted gears. “That’s a shame you want to disappear from the world,” she said, “because the world really seems to like you Walter. A lot of great things are being said. Some have even called you genius.”
“Genius? I’m a rock musician, that’s all. If what I have is genius, then genius is much more an exercise than a gift.”
“I see . . . Excuse me,” she said setting down her notebook and pen again and removing her Stanford University sweater. Walter’s eyes couldn’t help but say hello to the cupfuls of breast now peeking out over her red tank top. He was trying his best to not sexualize his interviewer, but nature isn’t always honorable amongst cutesy forest animals.
“The fireplace,” she said, “it’s kind of making things warm.”
“Well, April isn’t the most ideal fireplace weather.”
“I know...” she said, aware of his eyes as she bent over to pick up a thick binder from the floor, “…but I just love fireside chats. It always brings out the best conversations.” She opened the binder across her lap. “I hope you don’t mind if we revisit your past again briefly,” she said while thumbing through its many plastic-sheathed pages, “but I spoke to a few of your professors at UCLA, and while yes, some in the music press have called you genius, I actually heard the designation much more often from them in regards to your work in physics.”
“Physics? I was a C-average physics student.”
“Yes, but only in your junior and senior years. Before that you were the most promising physics student the department had seen in some time, so much so you were given a full-ride scholarship—unprecedented for an incoming freshman. That’s why although many of your professors describe you as genius, they also deride you as being…” She began reading from the binder: “...‘arrogant’ . . . ‘lazy’ . . . ‘immature’ . . . ‘ungrateful’, and my personal favorite, ‘disproportioned in blood flow between his brain and penis.’”
“That last one was from Schechter, wasn’t it?” Walter asked.
“Yes. He actually had the most to say about you. He even showed me your papers, and while he admitted there was a lot wrong with them, he seemed to think…” She read from her notes again: “…‘They’re the type of creative genius of someone who could revolutionize physics.’”
“So, what does Schechter know? He was a great teacher, but a failed theorist himself. A whole life wasted chasing dead-end theories. I’m sorry, but I didn’t want to end up like him. He’s gone so crazy now he’s trying to convince naive journalists who haven’t the slightest clue about theoretical physics what’s going to revolutionize it. Probably because they’re the only ones who will take him seriously now.”
“You don’t have to be condescending,” Francis said.
“Condescending? Okay, what’s the uncertainty principle?” Walter asked. She shrugged. “See, naïve journalist who doesn’t know shit about physics. Not condescending, just the truth.”
“But still, you don’t have to be a...” She tried to come up with a polite rebuttal, but went blank.
“What?” Walter continued his charge. “An asshole? Is that what you want to call me? Go ahead, but you’re the real asshole here. This entire interview you’ve been trying to trap me because you thought by putting together some extensive book report on my life you’d know it better than me. And by the way, just because I’m famous now, that doesn’t mean you have an all-access pass to riffle through my past—”
“Actually it does,” she interrupted. “Maybe I don’t know ‘shit about physics’, but I do know shit about media law.”
“Well, whatever. I’m done here.” He stood from his chair and walked toward the door. “If you think you’re going to prod any more information out of me you’re nuts.”
“Seriously?” she said. “You asked me for this interview. I thought you wanted to introduce the ‘real you’ to the world? How am I supposed to do that when you won’t tell me anything about you?”
“Well apparently you already know everything about me. What else do you need to know?”
“How about why someone so gifted continually wastes his talents? Songwriter, physicist, and now you tell me writer, you’re so much more than Quinn Quark the one-hit rock star and I just want the world to know. Isn’t that what you want too, for people to know the real you?”
Walter stood silent, contemplating for a moment.
“No actually,” he said. “I’m sorry, this was a mistake.” He opened her front door.
“Walter stop,” she begged. “Why?”
“Because the real me is not who you think he is. Wanna know the truth? I have no novel, not a single page, so cross off writer.” He slashed an invisible pen over the air. “And some crackpot ideas I had while smoking too much pot in college doesn’t classify me as a physicist either; in fact, it’s just an insult to the field. So we’ll cross off that one too. Hm… what else? Oh yeah, songwriter. I guess I’ll give you that, but not for much longer. As of next month I’m officially resigned of that title too. So there it is, an over-hyped, title-less nobody who can’t commit himself to anyone or anything; just a big fucking face for people to talk about, that’s all. You know, sometimes I wish nature hadn’t made me so brilliant if that’s what I really am. It’d sure make things a lot easier. I envy the average man; the person who can float through life blissfully ignorant of the world, because fuck the world!”
The front door struck its frame like a thunderbolt.
Walter tried to walk to his car, but delirium cuffed him to the curb in front of Francis’s house. As he sat, his head tilted to the night sky in search of answers as it so often did.
“She’s right,” he said. “Why? . . . Why-why-why-why? Why do you always throw away everything good for something uncertain Walter, or whoever the fuck you are today? Physics for rock stardom, rock stardom for writing, Amber for her mother—what’s next and when will it stop?”
A cycle then began to formulate. Every time something became too comfortable, he abandoned it for something new and more challenging. He couldn’t stand to be comfortable, to be stable—to be bored.
“But then who am I?” he asked. “What am I? Can I still be or should I be asking these questions at twenty-five? I can’t keep going around like this, flirting with everything life has to offer. I have to stick to something, stick to someone. I have to be an adult . . . But I like new things. I like to dream. I like change. I like being single. Why does it have to stop? Why does life have to revolve around one resolute identity?”
The dilemma of being twenty-five. Walter had grown into a man, but was still very much a boy at heart.
“Who are you talking to?” Francis asked from her doorway. Walter stirred to his feet in surprise.
“Um… myself,” he replied.
“You realize that’s kind of crazy, right?”
“Guilty as charged.”
She shook her head. “So what’s your deal?” she asked. “Does it really drive you that crazy that people recognize you sometimes; that you impact their lives?”
“Just because people recognize me doesn’t mean I affect their lives. I recognize Kim Kardashian, but if she never existed I think my world would be no different.”
“But you don’t represent the world Walter. Kim Kardashian may have no impact on you, but she sure does on the rest of the world—and that’s important. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a journalist, it’s that you can’t be so consumed in your own world that you forget about the actual one. Kim Kardashian, as unfortunate as it may sound to you, is the real world.
“Since I’ve already tanked my interview,” Francis continued, “I’m just going to be brutally honest with you now: you really need to buck the fuck up and stop being such a whiny bitch. There’s a lot worse curses that could be placed on you than being intelligent, multi-talented, good-looking, and famous. Also, becoming a writer isn’t going to free you of fame. If your intention is to have an impact on people, whether it be through a song, a story, or even a theory, you’re also going to have to deal with them—deal with being famous. People don’t connect with ideas insomuch as they connect with other people. Now, should I call the cops and tell them some madman is talking to himself in my front lawn, or do you want to come back in?”
Back in the living room, Walter snatched up his discarded drink from the coffee table and began sipping at it.
“I can’t help but notice your drink is just ice,” Francis said. He pulled the glass to his eyes and realized she was right. “Do you want some more whiskey, or something else?” she asked.
“You know, I could go for a beer if you have one,” he replied.
“Of course. I’ll be right back.”
As he watched her leave the room, the long, naked legs and nice behind beneath her thin pajama bottoms began circling his imagination.
No Walter. Be a good boy. Use your fucking brain. His tongue tossed around an ice cube to ease his drooling libido. Maybe his old professor Alan Schechter was right; maybe he did have deficient blood flow to operate his penis and brain at the same time. He often found his sex drive a maddening disruption, leeching his brain’s ability to think about anything else until satisfied.
Walter noticed Francis’s binder, left temptingly abandoned on the couch. What else does she have on me? he wondered as he went to capture it.
Clearly Francis must’ve been anal about organization; every page was carefully tabbed and alphabetically arranged into sections about his life. Never had he imagined it with so much order. He opened to his time at UCLA and something caught his eye he hadn’t seen in well over three years; something that had once been as important to him as children.
“I hope you don’t mind, but all I have are some locally brewed IPAs,” she said, passively looking over two beers.
“Strange, because according to this file . . . on preferred intoxicants, under alcohol, under beer, you have listed Left Coast Trestles IPA. Oh, what a coincidence, that’s exactly the beer you have in your hands.”
Her chipmunkish cheeks turned red. “Oh my god!” she said and snatched the binder from his lap.
“What? Am I not allowed to read this very comprehensive examination of my own life? I feel completely invaded, but oddly impressed. You’re like a female Nardwuar.”
She chuckled. “No,” she said, “but thank you for the comparison. Your favorite drinks were easy; they’re on your tour rider. The other stuff… well, a good journalist never reveals all her sources. Truthfully, I don’t normally do this much homework, but once I started digging, it was hard to stop. There really is so much more to you than people know.”
“And I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Here we go again.” She rolled her eyes. “Listen, you’re not my prisoner. You’re free to leave, however, if you’re going to stay, you need to start answering some questions, okay? I understand this...” she held up the binder, “...is kind of creepy. But there’s a reason why I get the stories no one else can: no one else works harder than me.”
Although the salvo was made, there was a controlled crazy around her Walter’s own crazy couldn’t help but be drawn into play with.
“Good,” she said, taking his silence as acceptance. She then pulled open one of the coffee table drawers beneath him, revealing a water pipe. “Oops. Forgot that was in there.”
Sure you did... his penis-constricted mind managed to eke out. ...Run away.
Francis closed the drawer and opened another. “Ah, there it is,” she said, and took out a bottle opener. “Cheers...” she gave him a bottle then held hers to his. They tapped, then both took big swigs. Walter’s attention then went back to her binder.
“I noticed you have copies of my ‘crackpot ideas’ from college in there,” he said.
“Yes. Actually, I was hoping you could explain your theories a little? Just for the sake of my own curiosity.” She smiled widely, her buckteeth biting into her bottom lip like fangs into Walter’s heart.
“Well first off,” he said, “please don’t call them theories. The word theory deserves more sanctity than that. They’re more like . . . arts and crafts time, but with physics. Mind if I see them?”
She removed only the necessary pages and handed them to him. As he sorted through, he laughed softly like someone reminiscing over an old photo album.
“Okay,” Francis said, “well, can you explain some of your ‘arts and crafts’ then? Uh… Fibonacci Manipulations of Calabi-Yau Manifolds…” she struggled to read from her notes, “…sounds like a good place to start.”
“Sure,” Walter said. “Unlike my personal life, I could talk about physics all night. You should take a deep breath to clear your head though. I’ll try my best to keep a tether, but I can’t promise you won’t let go.”
“Where are you planning on taking me Mister Huxley?” she said, her fangs biting in again. She then took an exaggerated breath. “Okay, I’m ready.”
“So the first thing every aspiring physicist learns,” Walter began, “is the big unsolved question of their day. Sort of a goal to reach if you really think you’re the next Einstein. The big unsolved problem facing physicists today is bringing Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which explains how big things like planets, stars, and galaxies operate, together with quantum mechanics, which tells us how things smaller than an atom operate. Separately, these mechanisms work great for calculating their constituents and have been proven beyond a doubt, yet when you bring them together—which we know has to happen when matter is compressed inside a blackhole, the calculations make no sense. A theory that would solve this has thus been dubbed, ‘a theory of everything’. Are you still following Francis?”
She was fluidly jotting away with her eyes focused to the paper. “Yep, still listening,” she said. “The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics don’t play nicely together—got it.”
“Well, this paper is a guess to that problem. All my papers are essentially guesses to that problem. This particular one, however, is rooted in string theory, and according to it, our universe is made up of ten to eleven dimensions, however, we only experience four of them. Think about the way in which you give someone your location. You tell them you’re on the corner of Main and Broadway on the second floor of such-and-such building. These coordinates represent the three spatial dimensions: left and right, forward and back, and up and down. Of course you also give a time in which you’ll be at this three dimensional location, and that is dimension number four. My second paper, however, Reconsiderations of The Time Dimension, questions if time can really constitute as a full dimension because it only flows one direction—forward, and my third paper, Application of Uncertainty Principle to Spacetime, expands on this by saying there is no such thing as time because wave-particle duality we find in quantum mechanics can also be found in the characteristics of spacetime being that space is all location and time is all momentum yet they still make up the same entity—” Walter stopped, noticing her confusion. “Sorry, I’m getting a little sidetracked.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s cute how worked up you get about this.”
“Who wouldn’t? We’re poking at the mind of God here! . . . Let’s back up. So string theory, ten to eleven dimensions, but we only experience four. So where are the other six—or seven if you want to count an M-theory technicality which my ‘guess’ does not? They, according to theory, are down at something called the Planck length, rolled up into unfathomably small, six-dimensional ‘knots’ called Calabi–Yau manifolds that hold the threads of reality together so to speak. To give you a reference point, imagine if an atom were the entire universe, this length would be the size of an average tree here on Earth. The shape of these ‘knots’, however, is unknown, but very important. Just the way the shape of a trumpet or tuba manipulates air into particular sound properties such as pitch and timbre, the shape of these knots manipulate vibrating, microscopic strings into particular particle properties such as charge and mass, which dictate gravity and the forces that attract, glue, and pull apart particles. Particles like quarks then coalesce into protons and neutrons, which interact with electrons to become atoms. Atoms interact with other atoms to become molecules; molecules interact with other molecules to become matter, until eventually, this beautifully complex symphony emerges we call reality. Incredible isn’t it?”
Some of Walter’s zeal seemingly soaked into Francis as her eyes had closed and her pen had stopped. Her body appeared seized in revelation.
Her lashes fluttered open. “Yes, it really is,” she said. “Maybe that’s why music connects with us at our core; we’re just part of some great masterpiece by some unknown composer.”
“Physics does have a lot in common with music,” Walter said. “It even has the same wave-particle like nature we find in quantum mechanics.”
Francis looked at him lustfully. “God,” she said, “you must be really fun to get high with.”
“Yes, getting high with God would be fun,” Walter joked. “But I insist I am not him.” He then finished off his first beer. “Mind if I have another?” he asked.
“Sure, one sec.” She stood to get another. “I’m serious though. If you want to, that bong in the drawer is all yours. Help yourself.”
Her teasing eyes remained on him until she left the room. As she returned, he looked at her cynically. He couldn’t shake the feeling he was being duped.
“Should we get high?” she asked.
“Maybe after the interview. I haven’t even told you my addition to string theory yet—I mean my meaningless guess.”
“Please continue,” she said and set the new beer in front of him.
“So are you familiar with a Fibonacci sequence?” he asked.
“Sounds familiar, but remind me.”
“In a Fibonacci sequence, you add the number with the number before it to get the next number. 1+1 equals 2, 2+1 equals 3, 3+2 equals 5, 5+3 equals 8 and so forth, until you have a sequence that looks like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55—you get the point. You find Fibonacci numbers and ratios all over nature, the most popular one being a logarithmic spiral based on the sequence called ‘the golden spiral’. You see this spiral in plants, galaxies, seashells, hurricanes, and even in the structure of DNA. However, this is not because the Fibonacci sequence is some magical cosmic code, but more so a logical arrangement that nature was bound to adopt because it’s efficient and practical, whether it be packing as many seeds as possible into a given space, arranging leaves in order to capture the most sunlight, or in my paper’s case, arranging six dimensions into a very small ‘knot’.
“All this paper explores is possible Calabi-Yau manifolds arranged according to the mathematical constant behind the golden spiral: the golden ratio. But my understanding of multiverse theory at the time was very limited, and it shows there may be an infinite number of possible ‘knots’. My fourth paper, Fibonacci Influenced Cosmic Inflation, does the same thing, but applies the golden ratio to the expansion of the universe from the Big Bang. But really, all these papers were just me having fun with the paintbrush of mathematics. I didn’t really know what I was doing, however, I was arrogant enough to call the year I wrote them, 2007, my annus mirabilis, or ‘miracle year’ after Einstein’s miracle year in 1905 because I thought they were going to change the world.”
Francis again looked awestruck, slowly shaking her head at him.
“What?” Walter said.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “You’ve just been the center of my world lately in preparation for this interview, and now to have you here in front of me, I guess you’re exceeding expectations—good and bad. I’ve interviewed everyone from rock stars to presidents, and I’ve never felt so… so star-struck I guess.”
“Francis...” he said, his cheeks looking suddenly sunburned, “I’m a lot more ordinary than you think.”
“Well, I’m having trouble finding anything ordinary about you.” Her smile again sunk into his heart. “So what happened? You had your miracle year and then what, it all slipped away?”
“I suppose, but I never really wanted it in the first place. Physicist was always just plan B to rock star. That was always my dream, but in high school, my religion didn’t quite fit into the lifestyle of my dream since band gigs were always at places and with people the Mormon church didn’t find kosher, so I got more interested in physics instead. But by sophomore year in college, Mormonism was no longer making the rules, rock n’ roll was, and once I realized I’d never be a new Einstein, I lost interest in physics. It was really just me trying to prove my parents wrong anyhow.”
“What do you mean?”
“I… I just didn’t get much support from them growing up, my stepmother especially who always said I was worthless and stupid, so my solution was trying to become the next Einstein to prove her wrong, even though she was dead by the time I was fourteen.”
“Really?” Francis said, unable to mask her enthusiasm. “What did she die from?”
It suddenly occurred to Walter what was happening. They were supposed to enter his past briefly, but now they were in his childhood, a place he had not been since until recent events forced him to revisit again. When four people’s lives would most likely still exist if yours didn’t, you begin to wonder about the meaning of such patterns.
“Goddamn it,” he said shaking his head. “I need to shut up. Why am I telling you all this? Stanford’s journalism department must be proud. You really have a knack for pulling information out of people.”
“I was a psychology major. And to be honest, I’m not having to try very hard. Remember, I can leave anything out. I can be just an ear too.” She surrendered her pen again.
“She drank herself to death four years after my parents divorced,” Walter said.
“Why’d they divorce?” Francis asked.
“Numerous reasons, all involving me though. But the breaking point came when I joined the Mormon church when I was ten, which my stepmother thought was of Satan—or her alcoholism did once my father began showing a passing interest in the church. When my father was gone on business trips, she used to lock me in my room after removing the interior doorknob for days sometimes, refusing to feed me unless I renounced the church.”
“That’s horrible. Did your father know?”
“Yes, but he downplayed it since my stepmother did. Her word was always taken over mine because I was proof of his dishonesty, and anytime he questioned hers, I was always her leveraging point.
“Oops, I didn’t mean for that to slip out.”
“It’s okay. Remember, ‘slip ups’ are okay here.”
Walter finished his beer before answering: “I was the product of an extramarital one-night stand, but when my mother died giving birth to me, my father had no choice but to take me in.”
“Oh my. I’m so sorry.”
“Why does everyone say that?”
“Sorry . . . Where’s your father now?”
“Still in Arizona, but dead to me. After the divorce, he dove into the alcohol even further, and after I dumped out his new bottles of rum one night, he put me in the hospital with a concussion. Child services then gave custody to my maternal grandmother, who I still live with now . . . I’m sorry,” Walter said wiping his eyes. “I haven’t thought about these things for a long time, but ever since Squids’s death, I feel like they’ve been bubbling out of me.”
“Please, don’t be sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s probably because you’ve repressed them for so long. What do you think it is about his death that’s triggering them?”
“It wasn’t just his death, it was my girlfriend’s too. I never told anyone in the press this, but she died right before the tour with Jester. They both died within three months of each other, and both were sort of my fault.” Walter’s tears became too much for wiping.
Francis took her notebook and pen sitting by her side and placed them on the coffee table. “Come here,” she patted the seat cushion next to her, then opened her arms to him. He couldn’t hold himself back from accepting the invitation, and continued crying into her clavicle.
“Shh…” she said patting his back. “It’s all right Walter, it’s all right.”
Once calmed, he brought his head up. “Thank you,” he told her. “Maybe we should pull out that bong now. It might make me feel better.”
“Want another?” Francis asked an hour or so later as she gently stroked Walter’s head resting atop her mons pubis.
“Yes please,” he cooed. She took a hit from the bong and shot-gunned it into his mouth like Amber used to do.
“So...” she said as her lips departed, “Squids stuck the needle in his arm and Amber died of a seizure, how is that your fault?”
“Wanna know the truth?” Walter said, so gone he could no longer keep his eyes in place. “Wanna know what my last words to Squids were when I found him shooting up in that tour bus bathroom he later died in, right before he probably shot up the dose that killed him? ‘Shoot up until you’re dead for all I care, because once this tour’s over, you’re out of the band.’ And it seems he took that to heart. Then poor Amber, after she dedicated her life to helping Perfect Crime make it, I decided on the very day we signed our record contract to break up with her, which was also the same night she died.”
“And you think the break up caused her fatal seizure?”
“Almost certainly. Amber had absent seizures as a child, but they stopped at nine. But when she was caught cheating with me on a fiancé she was three months out from marrying, they returned. She also had one right after I broke up with her, which, I suppose in hindsight, was only a foreshock to the grand mal that killed her later. Even worse, you know what I was doing in the hours right before she died? I was lip-locking with her mother in my car while we both had our hands down each other’s pants.”
Francis’s eyes went wide and her pen fell to the floor which she had picked up again without Walter noticing. “Did you say her mother?” she asked.
A great surge of regret rose in Walter, but convinced Francis’s affection was not only benevolent but romantic, his head lacked the blood supply to stop his mouth from moving.
“Yes, I guess I did,” he answered.
“So wait. Amber cheated on her fiancé with you, then left him for you, then you cheated on her with her mother?”
“Well, I had broken up with Amber an hour and a half before, but basically. But it was only that one time. We were both emotional, and it just happened. And I know it sounds horrible, but I think the only reason I was dating Amber was because I was in love with her mother. I think some part of her mother was also unknowingly in love with me, but some loves are better off not mentioned and just forgotten.”
“But forgotten doesn’t mean non-existing . . . Are you still in love with her mother?”
Walter’s eyes began leaking again as he shook his head yes. “I miss her all the time, and I hate myself for it. It’s why I can’t release Love Songs in A Minor Crash. It’s not because I didn’t finish it, it’s because most of the songs ended up being about her.”
Francis looked down at him as he continued to cry, then at the large number of empty glasses and bottles around them, not all of them Walter’s.
“Um…” she said giving his head one final rub, “…it’s three a.m. If you’re okay, I think I’m going to go to bed now. You can sleep on my couch.”
He wasn’t okay and he didn’t want to sleep on her couch, yet “okay,” was all he said. She then stood and his head fell off her lap. She then got him a blanket and tossed it by his side.
“Do you need anything else?” she asked. He wanted to say “you”, but instead just shook his head sourly. “Okay. Goodnight.”
She then turned off the gas fireplace and lights, leaving Walter alone in obscurity. Obscurity, however, soon started to spin, and an imaginary centrifugal force pinned him to his back. He reached for the ice bucket still on the table, but his fingers were just out of reach. He then began to bleat loudly.
“Are you crying again?” he could hear Francis say in the dark. “What’s that smell?” She flicked a light switch and found her answer. “Oh my god, you’ve got to be shitting me.”
“I’m sorry,” Walter said, leaned over the side of the couch covered in puke.
“No, this is... this is partially my fault. But that doesn’t mean you’re not helping me clean up.”
Walter stood, holding up the bottom of his shirt to let the mess pool into it. She giggled faintly.
“Even covered in your own barf,” she said, “somehow you manage to still look pathetically cute . . . I guess it’s not that bad. Thankfully you got most of it on yourself. Go take a shower. I’ll take care of the rest.”
After a thorough shower and teeth brushing, in nothing but his underwear, Walter accepted his place back on the couch.
“Come on,” Francis said, “you can sleep in my bed with me.” He perked like a happy dog from the couch. “It smells like cleaner in here now and the couch is still wet. But no more crying or puking. I need my sleep.”
Entering her room, Francis looked over Walter’s mostly naked body, subtly stirred by it. She shook her head.
“Here, put on a damn shirt,” she said handing him one from her closet. They then settled under the covers, and surprisingly she accepted a kiss from him. Overly eager and still partially plastered, Walter then made a clumsy attempt for a breast, but she pushed his hand away.
“No Walter, it’s not happening,” she said. “Go to sleep.” She then turned away from him and he was left to sulk at her back.
Who is Walter Huxley?
VALENTINE’S DAY/ WALTER’S BIRTHDAY 2012
Walter turned from Orange onto Main Street and into the Huntington Beach Street Fair, which filled Main Street with a colorfully noisy mass of people instead of vehicles every Tuesday night. The street’s squirmy, people-colored center tentacled across PCH and onto the pier, spilling a third of a mile into the blushing blue ocean view and orange cream sky.
Flanking and serving the people-colored center was a farmers market and two long lines of canopies selling commodities and skills of every kind: food, art, clothes, soaps, flowers, animal, mechanical, and inflatable rides, portable and live music, massages, psychic readings, professional and homeless street performances. The street fair was also the only event downtown bums and locals came out in as many numbers as tourists. It was a smorgasbord of socialization a lonely person could get high from, and Walter was going to miss getting high a lot. Grandma didn’t allow weed or booze.
Regardless, Walter didn’t have the budget for them. The label’s advance was at an end, and although they allowed him to stay in the house, they stopped paying rent two months earlier. Now with less than two hundred dollars to his name and soon to be living with Grandma again, Walter felt no shame doubling up on free samples of food as he moved through the street fair.
By PCH, he was full enough. Crossing the road, he entered Huntington Beach Pier, Walter’s favorite part of his walk and home to his “spot”.
The pier was the largest in Orange County and buoyed a full-size Ruby’s Diner at the end. With surfers crisscrossing its pillars on near-constant swells, the pier was Surf City’s centerpiece and attracted travelers from all over the world. This daily washing of faces mixed with the fixed tides of cute Ruby’s waitresses was why Walter never tired of walking the pier. Instead of going out into the world, the pier brought the world to him.
Reaching the pier’s spear-shaped end, he was happy to find his “spot”, the most seaward-facing tip, vacant. Wedging into it, he imagined himself on a ship bow heading out to sea as waves bowled in beneath. He stayed imagining until the last splinters of the sun were pulled into the horizon. He then turned to people watch.
As his foci rounded the end of the pier, almost all were nuzzling couples, still drunk on the bleeding idealism Valentine’s Day and sunsets bestow on lovers.
Loneliness is such a bitch, Walter ruminated, but it’s the bitch I love.
It was an apt calculation of his creative muse. Without loneliness, creatively, he was dead. Loneliness was his admission inside his head, a reality as real to him as the one outside of it. But as of late, his only pure repository of loneliness was his home. It was why he’d hardly left it the past two months. Outside, he was always vulnerable to some stranger cauterizing his solitude, but isolation was costing him his sanity, the very thing solitude was supposed to save. How any artist survived being famous was beyond him, yet his whole life this was all he worked for and wanted.
Although Walter killed Quinn Quark—arguably after he killed two other people—two months earlier, Quinn was becoming more famous in death than ever. His sharp rise and fall was the stuff of urban legends, and it only fed more interest about the man behind him. It also didn’t help Cirkus wouldn’t confirm any details about Perfect Crime’s breakup, hoping the threat of a lawsuit would change Walter’s mind.
Once the day committed to night, Walter turned back to the ocean. His ship was now sailing the cosmos. Black sky sat upon black sea, creating an artifice of twinkling space to wander and wonder about. Lady Stardust—his pet name for the night sky—was the only remedy for a mind as awash in death as his; she transcended it. While nothing compared to her, the same laws that governed her governed him, and the same matter that made her made him, and knowing this calmed him for the same reason prayer calms.
“Happy birthday Quarky!” a voice roped him back to Earth. He didn’t need to turn to know who it was. There was only one person on Earth who called him Quarky: Lola.
“I thought I’d find you in your spot,” Lola said, snuggling into his side. “For someone who supposedly hates routine, you sure are predictable at times.” In the faint glow from the Ruby’s Diner behind them, Walter noticed some new leopard spots painted into the buzzed sides of her bright, pink, swordfish-like mohawk.
“Everyone needs the support of some familiarity in life,” he said, his face not happy or unhappy to see her. Their meetings were always double-edged now.
“Well, most people find that with family and friends,” she said, “not walks and thinking spots.”
“I like my solitude. It’s important to my creative process.”
“Oh really? I never knew. So glad we got you that beach house. Does this mean we’re finally getting that album you promised back in December then?”
He ignored her and craned his head back up at Lady Stardust.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s your birthday, and if you don’t want to talk about it today, that’s okay . . . But still...” she pulled his chin and eyes back to Earth, “…I would like to know what’s going on? You haven’t returned any calls or texts in the last week, and I haven’t actually seen you in well over a month. Look at this beard you’ve grown.” She stroked the sides of his face. “I know today is your last day with the house—sorry, not my fault it happened to land on your birthday, so I just had to make sure you’re at least living.”
“Well...” Walter said, his hands gesturing downward, “je pense, donc je suis. Thanks for checking in, but I was enjoying being alone, especially since that’s becoming less and less of a privilege lately. So please, just go.”
“Quinn Quark!” A passerby shouted.
“Fuck,” Walter said under his breath. Lola’s flamboyant fin must’ve attracted eyes that otherwise would’ve missed him.
It was an awkward intrusion as a teenage boy forced his way between them. “Holy shit! You’re Quinn Quark,” he said. “I’m sorry to bother you, but do you mind if I get a picture with you? You’re like my idol man.”
Walter looked cynically at the fan. Growing up, he never wanted to meet his idols, fearing he’d find them too human.
“Fine,” Lola said, discreetly wiping her eyes. “I’ll go.”
But as soon as she did, Walter regretted telling her so. His fame was much easier to handle with her by his side.
“Please?” the fan asked again. “It would mean so much.”
“Uh… sure,” Walter said, his eyes still on Lola as she moved swiftly down the pier. He forced a smile while the fan’s girlfriend fumbled with her phone.
“Is the album still coming out?—What’s it sound like?—Do you have a new bassist?—Perfect Crime’s gonna stay together right?—You gotta keep going—Your voice was one of a kind man…” the fan sawed on.
“I’m sorry, I’ve got to go,” Walter said. He didn’t want to be alone anymore. “Uh… thanks for the support,” he said and chased after Lola.
“Lola!” he shouted. She glimpsed back and tried to continue, but couldn’t.
“What?” she stung back. “You obviously don’t want to see me. I’m sorry I ever cared.”
“That’s not true . . . Come on, let’s walk and talk,” he said catching up to her. “Look, I am glad to see you, but you know, it’s…”
“Complicated? Complicated because your former fuck buddy now represents your enemy? Yeah, it hasn’t been easy for me either.”
“Quinn! Quinn!...” a group of teenage boys and girls accosted Walter from the front. His paranoia told him the other fan broadcasted his location and now sharks were swimming in from everywhere. The commotion drew in the rest of the pier’s traffic, and soon everyone was halted around Walter, whether they knew Quinn Quark or not.
Walter cowered to the railing as the crowds closed in armed with cellphones. “FUCK OFF!” he lashed back. “I’m not fucking Quinn Quark! I’m Walter Huxley—Walter fucking Huxley!” Normally he could keep it together better than this, but the inside of him was so fractured and the pieces so fine, it was getting harder all the time.
Lola’s mouth suspended. She had never seen him reject fans, especially so forcefully. The crowd looked confoundedly at one another.
“Walter Huxley?” one of the teenage girls said. “What kind of weird name is that?” Walter received this opinion about his name a lot. Like him, it was a bit odd.
“No, he’s Quinn Quark,” one of the teenage boys said. “Look, he’s got the bellbottoms and everything. His hair’s just shorter, and he’s got a beard . . . Hey Quinn. Is it true? Did you go crazy and kill Squids?” Obviously this wasn’t a fan, but a heckler, something Walter had a growing number of.
“Do you think if I killed Squids . . . Do you think if I killed Squids . . .” …I’d still be walking the streets? was what he was trying to say, but couldn’t, because in exactitude he had been a pivotal actor in Squids’s death.
Frozen by frustration, he fell into one of his newly infamous “fit-o’-fucks”, uncontrollable, arm-throwing, fuck-laced freak-outs that began shortly after Squids’s death. This was the show everyone came to see Walter perform now. A video of one he had two weeks earlier went viral, and since, his number of tantrums and taunting teenagers had exploded exponentially.
“Ha-ha, there he goes!” the instigating teenager said. Some people scolded the hooligan, but just as many laughed with him and started filming with their phones.
It was the first fit-o’-fuck Lola had witnessed in person. Sure she’d seen much worse in private, but to see him boil out of control for cheap entertainment was a heartbreaking revelation of his degraded state.
“What the fuck’s wrong with you?!” she yelled at the crowd, shrouding Walter in her arms. As she took him away, some genuine fans tried to follow, still pleading for pictures, but her ferocious “HE SAID FUCK-OFF!” kept them back.
“You okay?” she asked Walter.
“Yeah—thanks,” he said, still slightly prideful. He pulled up his sweater hood and tightly pulled the draw strings.
“You know you can’t hide behind a new haircut and beard,” she told him. “Your most recognizable attribute is your pants. You’ve got to lose the bellbottoms.”
“Never. The bellbottoms have been a part of me long before Quinn Quark was—since high school. They’re my homage to rock n’ roll’s classical heyday.”
Lola began laughing. “I know Walter and Quinn far too well for you to bullshit me,” she said. “First, you gave rock n’ roll the middle finger by quitting. Second, although Quinn Quark may have told every reporter that’s why he wore bellbottoms, in truth, Walter is just insecure about his cankles.” He’d forgotten he confessed that to her one night on tour after they had too much wine.
“Now, do you really want me to stay,” Lola said, “or do you just want to continue to bullshit me?”
“Yes, please stay. I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you,” she said, and pulled him closer, “but only because it’s your birthday. And oh yeah, here’s your birthday kiss,” she said and lightly kissed his cheek. “Everyone deserves at least a kiss on their birthday.”
With her kiss came back many warm memories into Walter’s head of that brief but happier past when he was standing on top of the world instead of crushed beneath it. But that’s right, she was with his enemy: his past, and Walter just couldn’t get past his past.
“But I’m sure you’ve got other things in store for my birthday,” he said.
“Like what?” Lola said smirking. “Because if you’re thinking birthday sex, ha, but no.”
“No. I’m talking about the laundry list of items you’re hoping I will pay courtesy to as soon as you no longer have to pay courtesy to my birthday. I know Lola Roxy and Josepha Gutierrez far too well by now to be bullshitted.”
She cleared her throat. “I do,” she confessed, “but it’s just one item. I’d say we could talk about it tomorrow on the phone, but since you never pick up, I have no option but to disgrace your birthday with it. So you want it now or later?”
“Now. Otherwise I’ll be wondering all night.”
“Fine,” she said, reaching into her purse and pulling out a manila envelope. “Here, you’ve been served.”
“You’re suing me?!”
“I’m sorry, but you left the band and Cirkus no other choice. It’s not like you didn’t see this coming . . . However, there’s another option they’re willing to entertain, and believe me, it’s more than generous on their part.”
“They want a farewell show to make a live record.”
Walter laughed. “No,” he said, smacking the crosswalk button at PCH. “No way I’m going back. Quinn Quark is dead for good.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “Because I don’t need him, I need you. I don’t give a shit who you are onstage, Quinn, Axl, Ziggy fucking Stardust. I’m just asking Walter for one fucking show, and maybe three-four rehearsals tops. Is that really something you can’t handle? It’s not like Squids was your best friend. Think of what your bandmates are going through. And if not them, think of what I’m going through. You realize how much of a slap in the face this is to me, right?”
“Why? Because our personal relationship? The way I remembered it, there was a strict divide between our personal and professional relationship.”
Lola closed her eyes and swallowed what looked to be a scream.
“Well...” she said once she composed herself again, “...I guess I broke that rule from the beginning, because I obviously let my personal relationship with you—even before we started fucking—influence my professional one far too much when I put that record deal together for you. Even when the label—along with your own band—pressured me to convince you to rerecord some songs from the EPs, I told them no, to trust you. But here we are, seven months later, after I also convinced the label to let you stay in the house two months longer than they wanted, and you tell me in a fucking text message a week ago that you not only haven’t finished the record, you’re quitting music altogether. Then you have the audacity to just up and ghost me without any explanation. If you can’t see why that’s slapping me in the face, how about you come closer and I’ll put it another way?”
Walter looked straight ahead and gave no comment as they crossed PCH and rejoined the crowds of the street fair.
“I trusted you,” Lola continued, “fought for you, believed in you so goddamn much that I didn’t realize just how much I set myself up to be fucked over by you. But I never fathomed you actually would, because of all things I thought you considered me, a friend would be one of them. But no wonder you complain about having so few real friends Walter if this is how you treat them.”
He remained silent, but instead of looking forward, his head went down.
Lola stopped walking. “Are you really just going to continue to ignore me and say nothing?” she asked.
Walter shrugged. “What do you want me to say?” he replied.
Lola grunted and stomped her black army boot into the ground. “Fucking asshole,” she said. “I guess I’ll just see you in court then. You can ignore me and my phone calls, but you can’t ignore a lawsuit. I won’t intrude on your birthday with yourself any longer . . . BYE!” She then grafted herself into the passing crowds and was gone.
Guilt rose like an upper cut as Walter watched her colorful fin swim away.
“Lola stop!” he cried, and again chased after her.
“Only if you agree to do the show!” she shouted back, her fin still swimming.
“That’s not fair! Can’t we talk about it?”
“Oh now you want to talk. It’s too late Walter. There’s nothing else to talk about, unless you’re doing the show.”
“Fine, I’ll do it,” he ceded. She stopped and turned, unable to keep herself from smiling. “But I want you to know,” he said rejoining her, “I’m only doing it for you, not the band, the label, or the lawsuit. You’re right. You have been so much more to me than just a friend, and you’re really my only friend other than my grandma. I’m so sorry. I love you Lola. And you know not in an ‘I love you’ sort of way, but in a… well, I’m not sure what kind of way, but I do.”
She hung her arms around him. “Yes,” she said, “our kind of love is kind of hard to pin down, isn’t it? But it’s there, somewhere between friends, family, fucking, and business partners . . . I love you too Walter. But also, thank you. I know this isn’t easy for you, believe me. Also, it’s a good thing you’re not doing the show because of the lawsuit. That envelope is mostly blank paper. You can’t serve papers for a case you’re involved in.”
Walter sighed and shook his head.
“You’re turned on, aren’t you?” Lola said noticing some added bulk pressed against her leg. He sighed again and nodded. “You’re a sick freak Mister Huxley, but so am I. I guess that’s why we’ve always worked so well together.”
“Can you kiss me again?” he asked.
She grinned, then leaned in, her lips hovering over his. “Yes,” she said. “Everyone deserves at least a kiss on their birthday.”
Back at Walter’s place on his living room floor, cuddling atop his crippled camping cot which had collapsed under the heft of their lovemaking, he and Lola passed a whiskey bottle and kisses to each other while “Night Moves” rolled out softly from the radio. He had missed this dearly. Nothing was more healing to a man’s sanity than the soft hold of a woman who knew him well, even if she couldn’t hold him forever.
“So what are you doing with your life if not music?” Lola asked once the radio went to break.
“Do we really have to talk about this right now?” Walter said.
“Sorry, I can’t get it off my mind. Plus, I think I deserve to know why you’re abandoning the dream I worked so hard to help you reach; the dream you also worked your entire life for. I understand Squids’s death was tragic, especially right after Amber’s, but still, there has to be something else.”
“I just realized rock star is not who I am, okay? Yes, it’s what I thought I wanted to be when I was eleven and what everyone has expected of me since—with the exception of a few college professors, but I didn’t realize being famous would be so... so intrusive on my art. It’s great onstage, but I don’t want onstage following me offstage. I need offstage for life and art.”
“So what, back to physics then? You always said if you weren’t a musician, you’d be a theoretical physicist.”
“No. I want to be a writer.”
“Like a songwriter?”
“No, like an author. I want to write a novel, however, I have no clue where to begin.”
“Then why are you doing it? Because of Amber? Walter, I understand the incredible guilt you feel, but throwing away your dream for hers isn’t going to make your guilt go away.”
“You’re right, and that’s not why I’m doing it—well maybe a little because she was the inspiration. I just realized I’m as much a logician as I am an artist, and I need a medium that can satisfy both, and the only forum that came to mind was a novel.”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t make much sense to me because I’ve never thought of you as a ‘writer’—well, outside of a songwriter. I supposed there might be some crossover. Have you written anything?”
“Just one page.”
“Want to read it to me?”
“I’m not sure. It’s really rough, and I probably won’t even use it for my novel. It’s just an exercise I found online for new writers that’s supposed to stimulate the creative process. You’re supposed to introduce your writing as if it were you, but obviously I’m still trying to figure out who that ‘you’ is.”
“Just read it.”
“Fine.” Walter got up and went to the kitchen and pulled a gray spiral notebook out of one of the drawers. “It’s called, Who is Walter Huxley?” he said laying back down beside her. He took a few deep breaths before beginning:
“I'm sometimes hard to understand because I unconsciously speak in metaphors. My train of thought talks to me with them and often has to wander in the dirt before it can bloom into meaning, but I promise it always will, there’s just a lot of dirt in my mind. On the rare occasion my train does derail itself from too much momentum or dirt, I apologize for the casualties, but my train was never intended to carry passengers.
“Call me arrogant, promiscuous, sexist, reckless, irrational, contradicting, charlatanic, satanic, insecure, indecisive, self-loathing, self-loving, or just down right confusing, and I’m sure you’d be absolutely correct because at one time or another I probably was. But in choosing an identity one must try on all of life’s available masks. While I try to wear a mask that is always me, often I discover someone may have worn me better before me, and for the sake of sanity, it’s always welcomed to know I’m not alone while looking in the mirror, and always free to break that mirror, for great philosophy lies in the brilliance of broken mirrors, not in the reflections of them. But still, once you piece mirrors back together, mask or not, it’s still only you staring back.
“I am Walter Huxley, and I am one of the loneliest people on Earth; I am a writer. But there’s something sacred in a writer’s loneliness: sanity, hence why so many of us writers end up sacrificing our own for our readers’ sake.”
Walter’s eyes came up from the notebook. The look on Lola’s face was not one of satisfaction or dislike, but confusion. His eyes fled back down.
“It’s horrible!” he cried. “It’s nothing but a clusterfuck of nonsensical narcissism. That’s what you do when something sucks, inject it with ego and lacquer it over with pretentious, meaningless nonsense so nobody can look into it and see the piece of shit it truly is.”
“That’s not true,” Lola said. “Was it nonsensical and narcissistic? A little. But it had moments of great promise too. Regardless, of course you’re going to feel like a failure in the beginning; success is nothing but the accumulation of failure.”
“I know, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been at the beginning of an accumulation, and I just wonder if it’s too late, or if this is a big mistake, but no matter how hard I try to go back, something keeps forcing writer on me.”
The waterworks began at this point and Walter’s voice strained somewhere between a whine and scream—a wheam.
“Two-thousand-twelve just wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he wheamed. “This wasn’t how I imagined my silver year going. This is supposed to be the prime of my life. But there’s nothing prime, silver or bright about the silver anniversary of my life, only unending darkness. But I guess I just like being miserable because every time I manage any sort of stability, I have an irresistible urge to take the legs right out from beneath me. Why do I always do that? Why-why-why-why…” Walter took his injected and lacquered piece of shit from his notebook and began tearing it in a puerile fit. “Why-why-why-why…”
Lola waited until his fit subsided before speaking. “Because maybe silver years are for silver linings,” she said. “But seriously, you need to stop beating yourself up so much. You’ve been left alone inside your head for too long, and like you said, you’re not very friendly to yourself. I think this show will serve as a healthy distraction. Oh! And I completely forgot to tell you because I didn’t think the fake court papers would actually work and I was holding it in my back pocket, but the venue is the last stop of the tour we never made it to.”
“You mean the Berkeley Greek?” The Berkeley Greek was Walter’s favorite music venue.
“Yes sir. And for bass, this studio guy named Jason agreed to fill in, but you might know him from his previous band, Metallica.”
“No! No fucking way! I’m going to be playing with Jason Newstead at The Greek?”
“Yes—that is if you don’t chicken out.”
Unable to contain his joy, Walter stood and began running around the small house with his family jewels flapping openly about.
“Oh Quarky...” Lola said her eyes welling up with tears and laughter “...I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.”
An obviously very doped-up me after my colonoscopy
By Bradley Stockwell
To spare you of the intimate details, I’ll just say recently I’ve had some ‘digestive issues’. Two weeks ago I had a colonoscopy to check out these issues. Although I realized the possibility that they may be caused by something serious such as cancer, when my doctor presented me with that reality, it dug in a lot more than I thought. Fortunately, it seems this world is stuck with me a little longer for all my biopsies came out okay. However during the five days in which I had to wait to hear these results, I couldn’t help but contemplate my own mortality and what death means to me as an atheist.
For lack of a better label, I am an atheist but I am not spiritual-less. I find a deep sense of sanctity and humility in the scientific observations of nature. To make clear, this post is not intended to degrade or disprove anyone’s religious faith. The world is richly diverse in beliefs, cultures and opinions and I think that’s a necessary and beautiful thing. What I do have a problem with is the contention surrounding the subject of faith and I in no part want to contribute to it. The reason I love physics so much is it seeks to find unity amongst division and I apply that same philosophy in all facets of my life. Simply, I’m presenting how I sleep at night without believing in a god(s) or an afterlife because it is an honest question I’m frequently asked.
The primary source of my peace of mind comes from the laws of thermodynamics which describes how energy behaves. The first law, the conservation of energy, states energy cannot be created nor destroyed. This law was exampled in a previous post, Flight of The Timeless Photon, on how the photon (aka energy) is transformed from hydrogen proton mass into the life-providing sunshine we all know. The energy we consume, and consequently life, is all sourced from the sun. And the sun’s energy is sourced from the matter within the universe and to find out where the universe’s energy is sourced, we would’ve had to been around during The Big Bang. However according to multiverse theorists, it’s a good chance that it may have come from the matter of a previous universe which was chopped up and scrambled by a black hole into energy. Regardless, the point I’m trying to make is energy is immortal. It is the driver of the circle of life not just here on Earth but in the entire universe. As special as you think you are, you are nothing more than a temporary capsule of mass for energy to inhabit. Death is nothing more than a dispersion of this energy and this is what I take consolation in. When I die, all the energy that was me, my personality—my soul, my body even, still remains in this world. I’m not gone; just less ordered. I am a part of what keeps the arrow of time moving forward as the universe naturally moves from a higher state of order towards a lower—the second law of thermodynamics.
The universe is very cyclical. Life and death are just different stopping points on a grand recycling process. Matter, like our bodies, is created and recycled and energy, like our souls, is immortal and transferred. If you’re familiar with Dharmic beliefs, this probably sounds familiar. It’s funny how the world’s oldest religion, Hinduism, seemed to grasp these concepts thousands of years before science did. While I’m not a practicing Hindu, nor do I plan to be, if forced to choose it would be the closest to my belief system due to the many correlations I find between it and science. One correlation I was most awestruck by was the concept of Brahman to the laws of thermodynamics (aka the laws of energy) mentioned above. According to belief, Brahman is the source of all things in the universe including reality and existence. Everything comes from Brahman and everything returns to Brahman. Brahman is uncreated, external, infinite and all-embracing. You could substitute the word energy for Brahman and get a simple understanding of the applications of the first and second laws of thermodynamics.
If you can’t fathom the thought of an afterlife as some form of your current self, I can understand that. Once again I’m not here to convince you differently, I’m just presenting my viewpoint. However in regards to the value of life, I do hope to convince you that there is no deeper appreciation than through the eyes of science. I only stress this to debunk the perpetuated myth that science somehow devalues the beauty of this world by picking it apart. Once again, the reason I love physics is it widens the perspective of my existence through unifying the universe’s many diverse creations and movements. It connects me to the infinitely larger cosmos above yet also to the infinitely smaller universes below. I have an atomic connection to the stars, a chemical connection to the earth, a biological connection to life and a genetic connection to my fellow humans. When you see the world on so many dimensions, I can personally attest that suddenly everything becomes very interesting. Even the things we don’t give much thought to, like sunshine, weather, the way in which water ripples, or why your friend’s beer overflows when you smack the top of it with yours, become regularly appreciated with a new sense of awe and curiosity. The world becomes much more absorbing than anything a smartphone or television can provide and you find yourself wanting to experience everything it can offer. There’s no greater feeling than the intercourse between knowledge and experience. This perspective is perfectly captured by one of my idols, the great physicist Richard Feynman.
“I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”
When I finally do say goodbye to this world, I hope my friends and family will realize this is not actually the case. Everything that was me is still very much a part of this world, just partaking in a different dimension of it. The energy contained within my body will go back into the earth so that it can provide new life to the flora and fauna which kept me alive as I dined on them throughout my own life. Every joule of energy that was me will be released back into this world to live life anew. And will the unique combination of matter the winds of energy deposited as Bradley Stockwell be forgotten? Well I hope I will have done something impactful enough to be remembered by history, but if not, I can always depend on my beloved light particle, the photon, to ensure my existence will mean something. Explained in detail in my previous post, A Crash Course in Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, according to relative velocity time dilation, the photon’s existence is timeless relative to ours because it moves at the speed of light. A funny thing happens to time at the speed of light—it ceases to exist, at least relative to our perception of time. That is of course until I interrupt this so-called photon’s path by absorbing it as heat and become that photon’s entire existence; forever altering the universe. And this is not the only way the photon will preserve my existence. I of course don’t absorb all the photons I come into contact with—some of them bounce off me and are collected in the photon detectors (aka the eyes) of my friends and family members. These photons then create electromagnetically charged webs of neurons, better known as memories. Well until next time, stay curious my friends!